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September 9, 2007

Special teams produced mixed results

Butch Davis said there are no plans to change the holder for field goals at the moment, despite two bobbles by Ryan Baucom that led to a missed extra point and the failure to even get off a kick on what could have been the winning field goal in Saturday's 34-31 loss at East Carolina.

The failure for place-kicker Connor Barth to get a chance to attempt the field goal was especially painful for the Tar Heels because Barth is such a consistent weapon. He has made 13 consecutive field goals, not having missed one since his sophomore year in 2005.

"I know it got down late [on the extra point]," Davis said. "We expect the timing on a kick to be 1.2 seconds or less. Connor is going to start his steps toward the ball as soon as the ball is snapped. He never waits to see if the ball is going to be held cleanly.

"Right now, we have an awfully lot of time and an awful of the mechanics invested in the operation we're using. It had been good up until last night. We've got to make sure it continues to be good before we would evaluate whether a change needs to be made."

The effects of special teams covered a wide range. There were some kick coverages that could not have occurred much more efficiently. Brandon Tate returned a punt for a touchdown to keep UNC on track in a fierce scoring battle. But the special teams suffered critical break downs as well. The bobbled snaps were the most obvious, but poor kick coverage also played a role.

At one point, the Tar Heels surprised the Pirates with an onsides kick, and UNC recovered the ball. But one of the Carolina players had run by the kicker at the start and was flagged for being offsides. So Barth had to kick off again. The time, East Carolina got a huge return and excellent field position, which was also boosted by a penalty for a late hit out of bounds.

"There were too many things with special teams that really, really hurt our effort," Davis said, "and probably played as big a role as anything in putting our team in a tough situation. The average starting field position for our defense was the 41-yard line. Much of that came as a result of some big kickoff returns. We did a very, very poor job of containing the football. We had some success a week ago. We had moderate success last night.

"Covering kickoffs," Davis said, "it was either feast or famine. We either got them inside the 20 or 25 yard line, or there was a big return. You can't have that kind of inconsistency. And when you have a chance to make a huge play with the onsides kick, you get the ball and you're offsides [that hurts]. Then the very next play, they get a huge return with a penalty tacked on at the end. In a couple of areas, special teams did not play as well as we needed them to play."

There were plenty of positive plays, too. Some of those came from Jonathan Smith, a freshman from Durham who has been inserted into the lineup to help on special teams. Smith used his speed to make a couple of notable plays.

"He made some really good tackles," Davis said. "He was credited with two unassisted tackles, one inside the 20-yard line and another one on which he just did a great job. He attacked the blocker, defended the blocker. Actually, he got knocked off of his feet and still got up and got in to make the tackle at reasonably good field position."

Davis said the coaching staff is trying to find a way to get some of the starters off special teams and get them more rest.

"Jonathan is a kid we think has a huge upside," Davis said. "He's a fast, athletic kid. We're trying as much as we can to upgrade the overall speed offense, defense and special teams. He runs so well, we felt that getting him on the team would maybe give some of the guys an opportunity not to have to contribute to all of those special teams."

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